When the COVID-19 pandemic hit early last year, the attention of senior living operators immediately shifted. Resources that once were focused on planning events and outings were redirected to keep residents safe and healthy — and rightfully so.

For many communities, this shift meant that programming was put on hold indefinitely. And although residents were kept physically safe, their emotional wellbeing suffered. Yet, wellness is about much more than physical health. It is about staying connected to the people and things that you love and finding new ways to interact with the world around you — even in a pandemic.

At Watermark Retirement Communities, our focus had been on helping our residents thrive. For The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, this focus meant that wellness programming and active culture did not shut down with the national call for quarantine measures. It was merely approached as a detour that our associates navigated with enthusiasm and decisiveness.

Our response to the pandemic is just one reason The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay was awarded the 2020 “Best in Wellness” ICAA NuStep Beacon Award. Looking back on our response to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are three ways our associates were able to maintain a culture of whole-person wellness. My hope is that this information will be helpful to you.

Connection remained a top priority

Uncertain times often are overcome through strong community ties. Although state measures required residents to stay in their rooms or remain physically distanced, our associates stepped up every aspect of personal connection to combat the growing feeling of isolation.

Our small but tight-knit staff members visited each of our residents two to three times a week in addition to making daily compassionate care calls and providing individualized services. They also made sure each resident knew how to video call with their loved ones and assisted as needed for daily or weekly calls.

Programs were tailored to meet state guidelines

While in-person events were temporarily put on hold, our staff found new ways to host our most popular programs. Our team immediately made agreements with vendors to stay on as virtual team members and deliver a wide range of group fitness classes to our residents virtually.

One associate also took it upon herself to host personalized exercise classes for our assisted living residents. Each day, she would visit at least 30 residents and sit in their doorways to deliver a workout that was designed just for them. This personal approach helped keep our residents physically active and engaged with our associates.

Resident engagement was highly encouraged

At The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, our associates make a point to get to know our residents on a personal level including their likes, dislikes and hobbies. During the pandemic, this helped us find new ways to get residents engaged in virtual or socially distanced activities.

Associates helped one group of residents come together to sew personal protective equipment at a time when it was in short supply. Our small but mighty group sewed 300 masks and then sold them to raise money for a common cause.

By making these small changes, our associates were able to help residents maintain their mental, physical and social health during the pandemic. Their innovation and adaptability has helped protect residents not just from COVID-19, but from the isolation, stress and atrophy that many seniors have experienced over the past year.

Suzanne Burtzlaff is the executive director of The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, an independent living, assisted living and memory care community in St. Petersburg, FL. The community is managed by Watermark Retirement Communities.